Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Southwest Unique Little Car Show 2014

Success!  My trip from Sacto to Pomona had been uneventful - no troubles with the trailer, and my cattywampus hillbilly load of Crosley carcasses hadn't shifted at all.  I even found the NHRA Museum with a minimum of wrong turns, making me glad I'd finally activated Google maps on my phone.

The only wrinkle in the trip so far was a message from John - he'd thrown his back out and wasn't going to be able to make it to pick up the Crosley halves I'd hauled from Sacramento.  But, he assured me that his son-in-law would be there to pick them up on his behalf.  I was sorry that John wasn't going to get to hang out, but glad that I wouldn't be hauling the Crosley carcasses back to Sacramento.  I parked and hustled over to check out the early arrivals.
First thing I spotted was a Noble - a three-wheeler so rare that I've hardly ever even seen photos of them, let alone an actual car.  A project Scootacar sat in the lot all by itself.  A big batch of nice cars were parked by the entrance to the museum - including several Isettas, a bunch of electric shopping cars, a Renault Dauphine, and several Crosleys!
Club treasurer Ronnie Bauman had brought his stellar red pickup, and the Dunners were showing their nice HotShot.  Parked next to them were the Kings and their resto-kustom station wagon.  Gary Loomer's early yellow pickup was parked out in the lot, with a display Tin Block in the back.  There was even a Crosley I'd never seen before - a pale yellow convertible with a white top.

Also on hand, sans Crosley, was club member Jack Moore, whose very tidy 1948 station wagon was the cover 'star' of the latest issue of the Tin Block Times.  He could only stay for the Friday festivities so he hadn't brought his Crosley.  As he and I chatted, the organizers announced that they were ready to start the cruise to dinner.  They handed out maps, and two dozen tiny little motors wheezed into life.
I hadn't coordinated a ride but a friend of Jack's let me hop in his super-stock Citroen wagon- not a microcar, but still one of the oddest four wheeled vehicles ever built.  We zipped along behind the herd of tiny cars, on a six mile trip to the restaurant, occasionally choking on the two stroke fumes from the Isettas and Subaru 360s.    We arrived at the restaurant where wide eyed patrons were wandering around, slackjawed at all the oddball machinery filling the lot.  One particularly smoky Isetta took three tries to get up the driveway, almost falling over in the attempt.  Dinner was great, although we overfilled the restaurant - I'm pretty sure the NHRA guys that had organized it ended up not even getting seated.

Jack and I caught a ride back in Bob King's restomod Crosley wagon.  It took a bit of doing to fit both of us, plus Bob and his wife Charlotte all into one Crosley but we did it.  To say that Bob's car is impressive is a major understatement; I've ridden in quite a few Crosleys, but Bob's is the one that seemed the most like a 'regular' car.  The doors shut solidly, outside sounds are kept outside, and everything worked as it should.  The Crosley engine had plenty of power on the hills, even with four full size passengers, and the brakes stopped just like they were supposed to.  After driving my beat-to-death convertible for years, this was a revelation.
They dropped me off at my truck and I thought briefly about trying to connect with friends in LA, but it was already 9:30 and I wasn't excited about driving around the city with a fully-loaded trailer.  I decided just to tuck in early, so I drove over to the nearest truck stop and found a dark spot in a corner of the lot.  I'd originally planned on sleeping in the bed of the truck, but it was full of Crosley, so I sprawled out in the front seats in my sleeping bag - I got a surprisingly good night's sleep considering the $#@ seatbelt latch was poking me in the back half the night.  I got up, hit the truck stop shower, grabbed coffee and a bite at Zeke's Eatin' Place and was back at the NHRA museum before 8AM.
I parked and watched some guys unload a souped up Subaru 360 van off the trailer- I don't know what they did to the motor but it sounded like a horde of angry bees when they fired it up.  There was a sizable Subaru presence at the show, including several vans/trucks and at least as many sedans.  They are neat little cars- tiny little cars, really.  They're even smaller than Crosleys!
The best-represented marque of the show was the Metropolitan.  If I remember correctly this was started by guys from a Metro club, so that would make sense. There must have been nearly 20 Mets on hand, including Nashes, Hudsons and American Motors models, all neatly stretched out in a row.
The Crosleys were next to the Metropolitans - handy for Ronnie Bauman, who brought one of each. There were five Crosleys (not including the 1.25 Super Sports I'd brought) -  Ronnie's red pickup, Gary Loomer's yellow pickup, Bob King's wagon, the Dunner's Hot Shot, and a yellow CD convertible I'd never encountered before.   I met the owner, an Arizona microcar enthusiast who had purchased the car from Texas.  That's when I realized why the car looked familiar - it was the exact Crosley that had gotten quite a bit of press for running the Great Race about 10 years ago.  Sounds like the current owner is thinking about selling the car - it's nice now and with a little TLC it would be a stellar Crosley.
Ronnie had set up the West Coast Club banner and I think Crosley had third largest representation, right after the Metropolitans and  Subarus - a great turnout, I thought, especially when there were zero Crosleys on hand at the Great Pacific Northwest MicroCar Show last summer.
I ran around all morning like a 5 year old on speed- so much stuff to look at, so many people to meet!  It's hard to describe exactly how many odd little cars were there, but I think the pictures give an idea. There were at least a half dozen models I'd never seen before, like the Noble.  And that was 'normal' compared to some of the crazy cars in that lot.   Especially the French cars.  As Orson Welles once said, 'Ah, the French...'
Some of the strangest cars belonged to one guy who had recently had them shipped over from France.  The tiniest was the Mini-Comtesse, a 50cc beast so not car-like that it actually had 'tippy' casters on either side of the front wheel!  He also had an amazing, geometrically shaped car with clear plexiglas doors - it was one of the most amazing vehicles I've ever seen... also French, of course.  His cars made me realize that the KV1 that took the 'Worst of Show' at the Concours de Lemons was actually representative of a whole class of French cars, designed for people who couldn't get a driver's license.  And all this time I thought the Citroen 2CV was a base model.
I was super stoked to see a Playboy car - the only one I've ever seen in person. There were only 97 made and the owner told me that less than 20 are registered in the US.  They are funky little cars with a very functional collapsible hardtop - supposedly the first ever on a US production car.  It seemed to be better built than a Crosley - more like a smaller, older version of a Metropolitan.   I remember seeing one for sale in Hemmings 10 or 15 years ago and giving it more than a moment's thought - but then I realized I'd never feel comfortable actually driving a car that rare so I never followed up.  Neat, neat car, and in the hard-to-believe-but-true category, the original inspiration for the name for 'Playboy' magazine!
So many odd little cars!  There were several Friskys, multiple Multiplas, a very nice Toyota 2000 sportscar, Bonds, Citroens, a Saab, Minis, a Panhard, some Honda 600s, an amphicar... really too many to list.  Gary Loomer told me he counted up 115 cars in the show - and that didn't count the half dozen or so hotrods that showed up just to ogle all the weirdness.
I took a break from the micro machinery to check out the NHRA Museum- needless to say there was a lot of wonderful stuff in there as well.  I was particularly stoked to see The Glass Slipper - a Sacramento-built dragster that picked up all kinds of awards circa 1960.  The whole museum was well put together and I'd like to check it out again when my brain wasn't already so overloaded.
John's son-in-law arrived as planned just after 2PM.  I'd thought that he must live near LA, but no, he'd driven all the way from Arizona to pick up John's Super Sports.  He squinted at the halves, then back at his truck.  He had a big truck, but it wasn't 100% clear that the 1.25 Hotshots were going to fit.   Nothing to do but try.

Luckily we had a cluster of helpers who made the process pretty easy - after putting the various pieces in, and then taking them out a couple of times, we figured out the best way to get everything inside the truck... or at least in enough that nothing was going to fall out once we had some straps attached.  Within a half hour or so we had him packed up and ready for the long drive back home.
That was the cue for me to start heading home as well.  There was a lot to digest in the past 24 hours, and I looked forward to a relaxing drive home to let it all sink in.  So many microcars!  I said my goodbyes and eased the truck and now-empty trailer through the busy parking lot and headed north, planning my assault on the dismantled Super Sports sitting in my own garage...

Back to Part 1...


Anonymous said...

Nice report! Wish I could have figured out how to be two places at once! Interesting that the Isettas were so smokey- if I remember correctly, other than the very first ones made by fridge manufacturer Iso, they all had 4-stroke sincle cylinder engines based on the BMW R27 motorcycle engine. I know the project I owned in the early 90's did - which is why parts for it was so bloomin' expensive!

Ol' Man Foster said...

The Subarus were smokier than the Isettas, but the one that barely got into the parking lot was definitely sending out plumes of smoke -- maybe it had bad rings, not a two stroke! That could explain why it didn't have enough oomph to get up the slope...

Anonymous said...

Great cars!


Ol' Man Foster said...

Gonzalo- thanks for the note- there was a 4CV there too- didn't get a good picture of it, though. And thanks for the link to the blog - love those cars!

Anonymous said...

Very Nice! Johnchandor passed

M. Park Hunter said...

"Packard" Metropolitan? Er, do you mean Hudson Metropolitan? Packard was married to Studebaker and dying its own grisly death. That would have been hilarious - a Packard microcar! Great article. Thanks!

Ol' Man Foster said...

Doh! fixed!

Garm said...

Really neat write up! I'm the one backing my 360 van off the trailer. There is a Woodland Hills micro car meet August 3rd. I hope some people from this show can make it!

Bradford Oliver said...

Woah! Jack Moore's appearance must've made things more exciting. It was kind of his friend to let you hop in his Citroen wagon. How exciting was that? Hahaha! At any rate, it seems like you were in high spirits all throughout the show. I would've felt the same if I were there as well. Thanks for sharing that! All the best to you! :)

Bradford Oliver @ Lacustoms Performance Products